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Using Family Stories to Trace Family History

By: Chris Nickson - Updated: 18 Apr 2017 | comments*Discuss
Genealogy Family History Family Tree

Every family has its family history, and family stories are part of that history. Some might be quite straightforward, about an unusual, eccentric ancestor. Others will probably be murkier - a strange tale of some odd relationship to an aristocrat or royalty, for instance. Over the generations they may well have become embellished or altered, but they're a vital factor in what makes each family unique, and in genealogy.

You may well have heard versions of them when you were young, but as you start out to investigate your family history, you need to learn more about the stories of your ancestors.

Taping Family Stories to Add to a Family History

If you have elderly relatives living, take time to talk to them, not only about their recollections of their parents and grandparents, but also about what might be termed the mythology of the family. Are there legends or rumours? Ask what they can recall, it all fills out the family history, even if it adds nothing directly to a family tree.

Having everything on tape (or CD) not only helps you in your research, but it also creates a genealogy legacy for the family, as Grandma's or Aunt Betty's voice is preserved for future generations who will never meet her. Family history isn't simply about investigating ancestors, it's also about keeping memories alive and making the family aware of its individuality and the people who were a part of it.

Reminiscences on tape can capture details that might be lost - where the family holidayed, for instance, or what it was like to ride on the old trams, even how the city appeared years before. These are the things that make genealogy come alive.

Investigating Family Stories to Build a Genealogy

It's worth remembering that the family stories probably contain some kernel of truth, although it might well have become distorted over the years. The more you know about history and local history, the better placed you'll be to try and find the real tale.

Of course, in some cases it might be fanciful (the chances of being related to royalty are fairly slim), but there are many recorded instances in genealogy of servants giving birth to the offspring of landed gentry over the centuries (in feudal times the right of droit de seigneur existed that basically gave landowners the right to have sexual relations with their vassals). Proving that might be a completely different matter. But placing the correct people in the right place at the right time is certainly a start in any genealogy search.

Having a family story to follow up can be a great impetus to an amateur genealogist, and can certainly sharpen the research faculties, as you'll need to look into many different written genealogy sources.

How to Proceed in Linking Family Stories to Genealogy

Rather than jumping straight in to check the truth behind the family stories, incorporate them into your other family history research. If something supposedly happened in the early 1800s, then wait until you reach that point in your family tree before delving deeper. That way you'll already have established an image of the family history reaching back to that point, and an awareness of their circumstances.

With that background, you're well prepared to look at the bigger picture of the story. If the story is about an aristocratic ancestor in your genealogy, is it even possible? Did that family own land in the area where your direct ancestor lived? Was there a child born in the family at the right time? Was there even a connection between the two families, whether socially or through employment? Was the child's mother married well before the event, or was the child born out of wedlock?

In many instances your genealogy search might not be able to determine the exact truth behind the tale, but you can at least shed more light on whether it was possible (the further back it is, obviously, the harder it becomes to establish the veracity).

But in some cases you will tease out what really happened, with a greater chance of success for things that happened within the last hundred or so years. When you do, you'll enjoy a real feeling of triumph, and add greatly to the family history.

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Hi, I have been tracing my family tree and have gone back to 1774 (Joseph Reynolds), who lived just outside of the London area in Poplar. I have been unable to find any more links from birth records etc. My farther had said we were descendants of the Huguenotes, can you advise on how I can proceed, I have thought about DNA profiling! Your thoughts would be appreciated, regards David
David - 18-Apr-17 @ 7:50 PM
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